ABOUT THE BATTLE OF HOMESTEAD FOUNDATION
The Battle of Homestead Foundation (BHF) is a diverse organization of citizens, workers, educators and historians. It’s purpose is to preserve, interpret, and promote a people’s history focused on the significance of the dramatic labor conflict at Homestead, Pennsylvania in 1892.
The origins of the Battle of Homestead Foundation go back to 1989 with breakfast meetings in Swissvale between Russ Gibbons, Charles McCollester, Steffi Domike, and Dave Demarest. Early group projects included the Building Pittsburgh video, Labor’s Corner program at WQEX and the Out of this Furnace video. All of us were united in a desire to appropriately commemorate the centennial of the 1892 Homestead Strike, so in 1990 the Homestead Strike Centennial Committee was formed with Russ Gibbons as chair. McCollester and Gibbons were invited by Park Corporation to participate in discussions about the future of the Pump House during the demolition of the mill. We vigorously and successfully protested the planned designation of the site as the “Pinkerton Landing” and advanced the name of the “Battle of Homestead.”
The July 6, 1992 Centennial of the Homestead Battle was the occasion for a major conference at the Homestead Carnegie Library spearheaded by Russ with support from CCAC, the USW and IUP’s Labor Center. Speakers included Lynn Williams, Paul Kraus and Bill Serrin. In the two preceding years, Dave Demarest and Fania Weingartner from Pitt Press organized a collective of a dozen people that collected and organized material for a book of primary source material on the battle entitled The River Ran Red while Steffi Domike and Nicole Fauteaux produced an hour-long documentary video of the same name. Three state historical markers were proposed by Gibbons and McCollester and dedicated in 1992 as part of the centennial: The Battle of Homestead marker at the Pump House; Homestead Cemetery grave sites; and the Bost Building, union headquarters during the strike.
Following the centennial, the breakfast group grew to include Mike Stout, Joel Sabadasz, Bill Yund, Norm Koehler, Joel Woller, Joe White, Jim Hohman and Rosemary Trump with visits from advisors Clarke Thomas, John Hoerr, Bill Serrin, Paul Laxton, and Thorsten Gresser, and Bette McDevitt. The breakfast gathering every Wednesday morning has remained a key aspect of the organization to this day. We began to organize a more permanent organization that Russ insisted be a Foundation and initially began producing a half-dozen programs and films per year.
In 1994, with the Pennsylvania Labor History Society, BHF co-sponsored the 75th anniversary of the 1919 Steel Strike and death of Fannie Sellins. The organization also co-sponsored the 1909 McKee’s Rocks Strike centennial and the 1914 Westinghouse Strikes centennial programs.
We were incorporated in 1997 in time for the national AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh which included an early morning visit to the site complete with color guard and bagpipes by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. The BHF also served as the Western PA wing of the Pennsylvania Labor History Society. Russ, Charlie and Rosemary have all been two term presidents of that organization. Mike Healey was pro bono attorney during our early history, but in the late 1990s, Bernie Kleiman, General Counsel of the USW, became increasingly involved in our negotiations with the Steel Industry Heritage Corporation which led to a memorandum of agreement recognizing us as labor’s representative to do education and programming at the site. We honor Bernie’s memory with an annual Bernie Kleiman lecture in July each year. We gradually developed a good working relationship with SIHC/Rivers of Steel.
In the late 90s we received a DCED grant for $10,000 that was matched by a campaign for labor donations and IUP Labor Center support. These fundraising efforts allowed for the commissioning of Bill Yund’s dramatic Pump House window banners marking the decades of steel workers at the site that allowed us to show films and slides, the casting of the large bronze external marker with the Homestead worker’s statement concerning the 1892 strike, and the model of the site as it existed in 1892 (that presently resides in the USW headquarters in Pittsburgh). A subsequent IUP Labor Center grant allowed for the purchase of projector, screen, DVD/VHS player for educational programs. Subsequently Rivers of Steel upgraded all video and audio resources at the Pump House. From 2000 on, our programmatic ambitions steadily grew though our organization of events remained spontaneous and our organization was familial and operated by consensus.
Gibbons was extremely supportive of The Point of Pittsburgh book project. To accomplish the book project by the 250th anniversary in 2008, besides an enormous amount of writing and editing, the Foundation needed to be more structured to handle the fundraising necessary to print the book at a union printer in Pittsburgh. The Foundation By-Laws were revised into something beyond a boiler-plate document and a fundraising effort was launched that brought in over $70,000 from over 20 labor unions and 60 individuals. McCollester succeeded Gibbons as president from 2009 to 2015.
Peter Oresick and Mike Stout were critical to planning and production. Rosemary Trump and Russ were central to the fundraising. Millie Beik, Cindy Spielman, Stephanie Stout, Chris Mark and others added editorial assistance to the primary readers: John Hoerr, Clarke Thomas, Bill Serrin, and Staughton Lynd. Bill Yund contributed the stunning cover, a dozen chapter illustrations and maps. The book was published by the Battle of Homestead Foundation in September 2008 in time for the 250th anniversary of Pittsburgh’s founding. Two musical presentations produced by Lynne Squilla of the The Point of Pittsburgh were held at the Carnegie Lecture Hall for the book launch and for the national Working Class Studies conference at the University of Pittsburgh. The production was a collective effort and a concerted activity.
Sales of The Point of Pittsburgh were divided equally between the author/artist and the BHF and covered roughly 75% of the Foundation’s expenses during McCollester’s two terms as president. Hardcover copies of the book were donated to all Pittsburgh public schools and Carnegie Libraries, and given to all organizational and individual contributors in numbers that matched their contributions.
The central focus of the Battle of Homestead Foundation remains the educational, historical, cultural programs at the Pump House. With the arrival of Millie and Bill Beik programming for both film and lecture series steadily improved. A tradition was maintained of 14 programs, half film and half lecture/discussions/concerts running seven months from April to October.
In 2015, John Haer was elected president of the foundation and made major improvements in financial and organizational matters instituting membership dues, updated web page and other electronic outreach. As book sales declined, the organization began to expand its financial base.
With the approach of the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Homestead in 2017, the Foundation began to understand that the 1892 struggle, driven by radical technological change that fundamentally altered the relations between craft skill-based unionism and capitalist industrial organizations, had not only important historical lessons, but was also extremely relevant to the future of a workforce confronted with artificial intelligence, robots, drones, genetic engineering and climate change. What will future workers do for a living and how can the earth survive unrestrained greed and exploitation?
More to come!
BHF meets informally every Wednesday morning at the Eat’n Park Restaurant in the Waterfront, Homestead. All are welcome!
Join Us! Become a Member! Here’s How
BATTLE OF HOMESTEAD FOUNDATION
P.O. Box 339
Homestead, PA 15120-0339
John Haer, President
Phone: 412-478-5907 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rivers of Steel Heritage Area rents out the Pump House for events and you can call them at 412.464.4020.
Our 2019 Board of Directors
John Haer, President
Steffi Domike, Vice President
Patty Demarco, Treasurer
Dan Beeton, Secretary
Jacqui Cavalier, Suzanne Donsky, Jerry Fitzgibbon, Mark Fallon, Charlie McCollester, Bart Meyers, Dennis Robinson, Brittany Sheets, Mike Stout, Rosemary Trump, Beth Ussery, Keli Vereb, Abby Wolensky.